HC Deb 10 July 2003 vol 408 cc1361-3
6. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

If he will make a statement on progress in identifying money laundering through financial services companies reporting suspicious accounts.[124647]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng)

A range of relevant measures has been implemented by the Government, working with the Financial Services Authority, the police, Customs and Excise and, of course, the financial services industry itself, to strengthen the UK's protection against the money laundering that underpins so much crime and terrorism.

Mr. Beard

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Could he say what impact the threefold increase in suspicious activity reports from the financial services industry since 11 September 2001 has had on the number of prosecutions? Could he further say whether he believes that the strength of the National Criminal Intelligence Service is adequate for the purpose of investigating the current volume of suspicious activity reports?

Mr. Boateng

My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of the suspicious activity reporting regime to the Government's anti-money-laundering strategy. It is undoubtedly making a contribution to the increase in prosecutions, but also, vitally, to the intelligence gathering that is so important in combating crime and terrorism. The role of NCIS is vital. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced last week the establishment of a multi-agency taskforce to ensure that other criminal justice agencies and law enforcement bodies work effectively with NCIS in this area.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Rather than the Government having secret talks with the Spanish about Gibraltar, is the Minister having talks with Gibraltar and other British territories overseas regarding money laundering in banks there?

Mr. Boateng

I am glad to give the hon. Gentleman and the House the assurance that to my certain knowledge, as a former Police Minister, Criminal Justice and Treasury Ministers have regular contact not only with the Spanish Government and authorities, but across the EU and beyond. It is that international co-operation that is securing the gains that are being made in combating crime and terrorism, not least in the aftermath of the events of 11 September.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Minister may be aware that I have written to more than 30 banks and building societies about this matter. They all responded and outlined several concerns, not least in relation to NCIS and the need to report every single incident; there is a general feeling that that is clogging up the system. Consequently, I hope in the autumn to hold a conference with the industry and the Financial Services Authority. Will the Minister ensure that Treasury and Home Office representatives are there so that we can examine the issue comprehensively and end up with a more efficient system?

Mr. Boateng

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that he does in this field as Chair of the Treasury Committee. He is absolutely right to stress the importance of the role of the banks and other financial services institutions. I would be delighted to ensure that Treasury officials attend the conference, and I shall certainly urge the same course on my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

I welcome the progress that is being made in identifying money laundering. Does the Minister agree that ordinary citizens who observe in their own communities individuals who are acquiring property and enjoying lavish lifestyles, yet are known not to have won lottery money, should pass on that information to their local police? We must put an end to this from the ground up.

Mr. Boateng

The hon. Gentleman is right. The public's role is crucial and we have therefore recently joined the industry in an information campaign explaining to the wider public why they are asked to provide proof of identity on a more routine basis. It is vital in the battle against crime and terrorism.

I pay tribute to the police and Customs and Excise in Northern Ireland. They work with the public in combating crime and terrorism. Gathering intelligence as the hon. Gentleman suggests is vital to that.